I am writing from my banda within Ruaha National Park. We arrived this morning, shortly before lunch. Just from our short drive to our housing we already saw giraffes, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, waterbuck, warthog, and impala. After lunch we had an introductory discussion with the Chief Park Warden, the head veterinarian, and a park ecologist regarding the current issues and challenges within the park, namely human-wildlife-livestock conflict, drought, fire, poaching, and infectious disease. After our discussion we loaded our Land Rovers for a game drive.
The vehicles headed out into different directions so as to not disturb the wildlife for the others. My vehicle had the fortune to see many elephants up close, zebras, giraffes, kudu, and even lions! The elephants were probably the most “exciting” because we found ourselves a bit too close to a few elephants that were especially aggressive due to the presence of young in the herd. Elephants can be quite territorial and will charge intruders with intimidating speed and force. The elephants that we crossed paths with were definitely intimidating. In captive situations, elephants appear docile and friendly towards humans; however, this behavior is highly unnatural. In the wild, elephants pose a definite risk to humans even within the security of a SUV.
After our game drive we came back to our “home base” for dinner and another discussion. This time, our discussion was more specifically about the veterinary interventions within the park. There is relatively little human intervention in Ruaha National Park which is becoming increasingly rare in so-called “wild areas.” The veterinarians mainly assess herd health by performing necropsies and monitoring population numbers. They also prevent disease by vaccinating against common infectious diseases (i.e. rabies). The lead vet also shared with us his research on the emerging disease issue of giraffes known as “giraffe skin disease.” This condition leads to eroded and ulcerated skin near the carpus and genital region of adult animals. Little is known about its etiology, transmission, and prevalence, but early estimates indicate a prevalence of over 80% of giraffes within Ruaha National Park.
I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s adventure. Again we are loading the Land Rovers, but this time to assess giraffe health from a distance. We will be surveying groups of giraffes with our binoculars and then recording the presence or absence of skin disease, the severity of such disease, and body condition. We will be recording our findings and then pooling our data with that from the other groups to establish surveillance data for 2010.
I’m still very much enjoying my time in Tanzania. I am meeting very interesting people and making valuable contacts. I am also having the time of my life! Last night to say goodbye to Chogela Camp we had a BBQ with some folks from Wildlife Conservation Society, the Ruaha Carnivore Project, and the U.S. Department of Interior and Fish and Wildlife Service. After we ate dinner we were treated to a song and dance around the campfire by a village singing troupe. It was awesome…drums beating, people dancing, music playing! Afterwards we took our party to the dining banda for a Tanzanian dance party “club style.” I have made such great friends here – they truly are an extended family. We joke, laugh, sing, dance, learn, and live together. It will be hard to say goodbye in only 2 short weeks.